Colombian American artist Velu O manages an ever-growing list of roles within the DMV, including vocalist for WAMMIE award-winning band DeSanguashington; vocalist for all-women cumbia collective, La Marvela; host of podcast Latinas Be Like Us, and Board member of Dia De Los Muertos Benefit Fest.
Read to learn about Velu O’s latest projects that involve launching a solo artist career and founding Latinas Be Like Us, a podcast created to “empower everyday Latina superheroes,” as well as the reason she believes that motherhood may have ushered in her best season yet.
Creative expression has come naturally to Velu O ever since she was a child.
“I remember just like putting on shows for my family, dancing in front of them,” she explained. “And being really dramatic and creative. There were instances of my mom yelling at me. I remember one time, I told my mom, ‘Mom, please, let’s talk woman to woman.’ And my mama would just laugh because you know, who comes up with that stuff.”
In terms of her early influences, Velu O shared, “My parents loved actually listening to a lot of classical music, but they also loved listening to folk music, tropical artists.” Musicians who were a part of her childhood soundtrack include Fania All-Stars, Oscar D’León, Totó La Momposina, an Afro-Colombian and Indigenous singer, and French troubadour Charles Aznavour.
For Velu O, a native Spanish speaker, the best music transcends genre and language – and further, it has the potential to be a source of greater harmony.
“I grew up with a lot of English music, as well, but I didn’t understand it. So I really find it funny when people say, ‘Oh, but I don’t understand the lyrics,’” Velu O reflected, referring to occasional reactions to her songs, which are sung primarily in Spanish. “I’m like, you don’t have to understand the lyrics. You just have to feel the music.”
“I love listening to music from other languages as well – like African music, French music, and Eastern European music, so it’s fascinating to me that there is so much richness of culture of music throughout the world,” she added.
“If people were more open to that, I think it would also help us unite. Especially now when you see so much conflict and so many issues happening around the world, I think music could help if people were able to realize that we all share this humanity and richness of culture.”
Prior to becoming an artist, Velu O pursued a career in environmental studies. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the field. After a long season of self-discovery, she learned that while environmental conservation will always be part of her identity, it is no longer where she sees her future.
“I wanted to come to the Washington, D.C. area because of my career,” she explained. “I moved here for the nonprofit world, and then, I met my husband here, and I just stayed. Music happened to find me in a moment of a lot of stress in my life and a lot of emotional trauma. It was sort of a way for me to deal with that emotional toll, and it became an outlet for me to basically not go crazy.”
She found that music came naturally since its roots are embedded deeply into her lineage through her father-in-law who was in a band and her great-aunt, an opera singer.
In addition to gaining experience as a performer, Velu O developed her skills as a band leader, which required her to learn the intricacies of the music business, including negotiating contracts. “With DeSanguashington, I’ve had so much success, and it’s been so amazing,” she shared, reflecting on the past 10 years. “And La Marvela, it’s been incredible, too.”
It was not until approximately 2 years ago, however, that Velu O embraced her gift as a creative fully, culminating in her debut as a solo artist. This shift was inspired by the life-changing experience of becoming a mom.
“I think while I was in recovery, I needed an outlet to continue to ground myself and not forget who I am. Your body is changed, and you’re still kind of healing. I think people don’t realize that it’s not like you give birth, and you have a C-section, right, and then, three days later, you’re fine. It’s an entire year of healing, and it takes years. I’ve had conversations with women that say, ‘I had a C-section, and it’s been 10 years, and I still feel like I’m healing.’ I had one, so you know, here I am,” she laughed.
When asked to share something she heard about motherhood previously that she did not understand fully until she became a mom, Velu O responded without hesitation, “Oh, my God – everything, really. I thought it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.”
Velu O is quick to acknowledge that the support of her partner and family is instrumental to being able to raise her son, who was celebrating 10 months on the day of our interview, without sacrificing the entirety of herself.
“I am aware, and I know I would not be able to do any of this if it wasn’t for them,” she reflected. “There are so many women who have had to put a hold on their careers because there is nothing else they can focus on at the moment.”
“I was never really the kind of woman who thought motherhood is everything. I also did not experience that instant falling in love with my baby after delivery. There were a lot of other feelings pouring into my mind when that happened. But the maternal instinct was there.”
“But the more I get to know my baby, you know, he’s cool, he seems nice, and I love him more and more,” she added, smiling. “My husband and I, as soon as he wakes up, we go over and we get so excited to see him because he gives you these smiles that are like a serotonin high, so you’re high all the time basically from your baby. Because you’re looking at him, like oh, my gosh, I love you.”
While motherhood has certainly lessened the amount of time available to dedicate to her music, it has also allowed Velu O to focus her priorities on the things that really matter.
“It’s funny, now that I’m a mom, I feel like I have more clear goals with my life of what I want to do,” she said. “So, I’m not encouraging anyone to have any kids, that’s a really personal experience, but I think that’s what happened to me, and just to not be afraid and just do it. I’ve always felt like that, but I feel like motherhood really sort of slapped me in the face and said, ‘Yeah, you’ve been saying all this this whole time, so do it, and do it now.’”
On October 27, Velu O released “Cumbia de la Tierra,” her second single as a solo artist. The track is divine, one that you will find yourself repeating over and over again. It captures the sound of freedom against the backdrop of danceable rhythms, Spanglish, and tropical vibes. Velu O even showcases her impressive skills as a rapper.
“This was actually part of another project that never really worked out that I wrote the lyrics for,” explained Velu, adding that she worked with her “super talented” producer Jhosua Rodriguez to “revive and reshape the song” and give it her own voice.
In addition to her work as a solo artist and continued partnership with DeSanguashington and La Marvela, Velu O recently launched a new podcast, Latinas Be Like Us, a passion project that seeks to empower Latinas from all backgrounds.
“I know there has been a lot of progress in terms of how the United States see Latinas, but there is still a lot of fetish and still a lot of stereotypical assumptions of what a Latina is,” said Velu O. “You know, like Latinas are crazy, are toxic, they’re after your money, they’re gold-diggers, they’re maids.”
“Nothing wrong with maids, but that’s just not true. That’s not the reality, not everyone is that. We’re not pieces of paper that are cut in the same shape. And I just got tired of listening to the same old misinformation, and so, that’s why Latinas Be Like Us was born. Because I wanted to show that Latinas have a variety of dreams, and they’re really making it happen.”
Guests to date include the DMV’s own Carly Harvey, as well as Heidi Rojas and Leslie Hidalgo, spanning musicians, authors, mental health advocates, and more. Velu O believes Latinas Be Like Us is meant to hold a national platform, and we quite agree. “I’m putting it in the universe right now because I don’t think I’ve actually said it out loud,” she shared.
And while Latinas Be Like Us carves out a space specifically for Latina women, there is also something of value for humanity at large.
“There might be a 30-year-old that thinks it’s too late, and they might hear, actually not too late because this person just started her podcast at the age of 40,” said Velu O. “Beyond bringing joy to people with my creativity and with my music, my ultimate goal is to empower people to just go and do it. Like what are you waiting for?”
In terms of advice for aspiring creatives, Velu O shared, “For anyone who needs encouragement and who is afraid of showing their gifts, I think, you know, stop thinking about it too much because the world deserves to see what you have to show.”
And for those who may have forgotten, Velu O is here to remind you that the Latino community is present throughout the entirety of the calendar year, not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. “I think people maybe believe that we live in cocoons that we go back to, and then we appear again September 15,” she joked.
Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
More to Watch On Nov. 24, rising D.C.-based singer-songwriter Marilyn Hucek released her latest EP, “Love and Loss.” The collection may be Hucek’s most personal
Aria Velz is a director, TikToker, and Lesbian Media Enthusiast based in the D.C. area. On November 2nd, she sat down with me to talk about it all, from her latest production at Olney Theatre Center to the things that lead to her little corner on TikTok.
On October 29th, Olney Theatre Center wrapped its run of Prince Gomolvilas’ ‘The Brothers Paranormal.’ The disconcerting, borderline terrifying production was co-directed by Olney’s Senior Associate Artistic Director, Hallie Gordon, and Velz herself. The show was one of the spookiest times I have had in a theatre in quite some time. It was evident that the show was a well researched labor of love.